Four to five hundred devotees, including over sixty from around the world, enjoyed the perfect rejuvenating Krishna conscious holiday from June 14th to 22nd at the Festival of Fiji, as they experienced the best kirtan, prasadam and spiritual association in a tropical paradise.
The festival’s first run from the early 1980s until 1998 was led by the late ISKCON guru Tamal Krishna Goswami, who oversaw the society’s mission in Fiji. With his series of festivals Goswami aimed to encourage devotees to serve ISKCON’s mission in a loving, family spirit, and to share the culture of Krishna consciousness with local people in the shape of kirtan and prasadam.
Inspired to continue his mission, his disciples in Fiji brought the festival back with a bang in 2008, and again in 2010.
The theme of this year’s festival incorporated his initials TKG, focusing on Togetherness, Kirtan, and Gratitude, and began with a three-day celebration of Tamal Krishna Goswami’s life and service.
The highest number of disciples yet gathered at the Radha-Golokabihari Temple – one of the largest ISKCON temples outside of India – in Fiji’s capital Suva. They were joined by Godbrothers and Godsisters of Goswami, including Vedavyasapriya Swami and Auckland temple president Kalasamvara Das.
The celebrations began on Saturday June 14th with a mega-Harinama in Suva city, along with the distribution of 1,200 plates of prasadam. On Sunday the 15th, the day was packed with homages and devotees sharing their memories of Tamal Krishna Goswami, along with a slideshow of his life, kirtans, and a feast.
Disciples began Monday, his official birthday (or Vyasa-Puja) by watching a video lecture by their guru, and then shared more memories. These were followed by a guru puja and pushpanjali flower ceremony, and then prasadam. Later in the evening, they chanted Harinama in a nearby town and distributed a further 1,000 plates of prasadam to the public.
“This was the first time we did this on such a large scale, and disciples from all over the world came,” says organizer Ramanuja Das. “For many of us, it was the first time we had ever met, and everyone was just hugging and embracing each other. The atmosphere was very sweet.”
The devotees were very excited about going snorkeling
On Tuesday June 17th, festival participants left Suva for the town of Navua, where they paid their respects to the Deities of Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra at the ISKCON center there. After another Harinama, they visited a local school where they distributed 2,000 plates of free prasadam to primary and high school students, as well as teachers. Devotees then refreshed themselves with a swim and a picnic on the beach.
“Even though June, July and August are supposed to be winter in Fiji, it’s still sunny and warm, and the devotees really enjoyed the balmy weather and the crystal clear water and white, sandy beaches,” says Ramanuja.
From Navua, the party headed to the tourist town of Sigatoka, where the skyline is dominated by ISKCON’s multi-storey Sri Sri Radha-Damodar temple, with its octagonal turrets and domes modeled after those at Kusum Sarovar in Vrindavana, India.
Serving prasadam to students at a school in Navua
There, devotees were joined by ISKCON guru Ramai Swami and again performed Harinam and Prasad distribution in Sigatoka town, before taking a tour of a traditional Fijian village.
“Then we took a forty-minute walk into the bushland to swim at a waterfall,” Ramanuja says.
The next morning, it was on to Nadi, a major tourist town that also thrives on the sugarcane industry, for more Harinamas and prasad distribution and another beach picnic. That evening, devotees rested at the Shri Krishna Kaliya temple in Lautoka, Fiji’s second largest city.
The next day, they took the Festival of Fiji’s now renowned “Island Boat Cruise” across brilliant blue waters to the tiny South Sea Island, a slice of paradise covered in perfect white sand and surrounded by coral reefs.
“The locals greeted us with a Fijian welcome dance called ‘Meke,’ as well as the warrior dance,” says Ramanuja. “They also showed us how to open a coconut with your bare hands, how to climb a coconut tree, and what different things you can make from coconuts.”
Devotees took full advantage of everything the island had to offer, going swimming, snorkeling amongst the many tropical fish, kayaking, and even taking a submarine ride. They then burst into a Harinama along the sparkling beaches, which they continued on the boat on their way back to the mainland.
“The crew loved it,” Ramanuja says. “They even joined in – it was great!”
The next day, Saturday, devotees celebrated Lautoka Rathayatra, pulling the grand chariot carrying Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhdara through the city for three hours along with the chanting of the Holy Names.
They continued to surf the exhilarating waves of kirtan back at the Lautoka temple in the evening, with kirtaniyas from Australia, New Zealand and Fiji leading the joyful celebration.
In the evening, devotees relaxed with a video showing the early days of ISKCON in Fiji, and then shared more memories of Tamal Krishna Goswami with Ramai Swami, Kalasamvara Das and other senior Prabhupada disciples.
On Sunday, the flames of a traditional yajna fire ceremony blazed as Vedavyasapriya Swami gave first and second initiation to eight candidates. This was followed by yet another stomping kirtan led by Kalasamvara Das, and then a sumptuous prsadam feast, wrapping up the festival.
“We also thanked all the devotees who helped put on the festival with a gift-giving ceremony, and asked the visiting devotees to share their realizations of the past week,” says Ramanuja. “They expressed how they really appreciated the festival, and how we went that little bit further out of our way to make sure they were comfortable. That was what Gurudeva’s (Tamal Krishna Goswami’s) mood was – he always made sure that all the guests were served very nicely.”
The next Festival of Fiji is expected to be held in 2016, as part of ISKCON’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
“Since Tamal Krishna Goswami put so much time and effort into Fiji, we are thinking of taking the opportunity to make a small memorial with a plaque for him at both the Krishna Kaliya temple in Lautoka, and the Radha-Goloka Bihari temple in Suva,” Ramanuja says.[ fiji ]